Release Unwanted Emotions with Therapeutic Letter Writing


Therapeutic letter writing is a powerful way to express intense or difficult emotions by directly addressing a particular person in a letter that will never be sent. It's often the case that we're not ready or willing to openly share what we'd like in order to resolve a conflict or clear the air. Putting pen to paper can be a safe and private way of doing so.

Where journaling and therapeutic letter writing differ is that the latter is a specific message written to a specific person. Using this technique enables us to evoke thoughts and feelings so we can work with them in a healthy way. It is an exercise for ourselves with the goal of tending to our emotional self-care. Direct expression of emotion is a healthy self-care strategy. And when you're addressing someone and speaking to them in letter form, you are using a healthy method of communication and self-expression.

Reasons to Write a Therapeutic Letter

When we have lingering emotions or a strong reaction towards someone, whether it be a partner, friend, co-worker or even someone who has passed away, and we're unable to directly communicate our thoughts and feelings, we can feel stuck and have difficulty moving forward. At times, you may feel that sharing certain thoughts with someone will adversely affect the relationship. Or you may feel confused and overwhelmed and not sure how to proceed in resolving things so you can get to a place of peace.

Taking time to slow down and write a letter can be an exercise in discovery, which gives you the opportunity to tune into what has not yet been explored or examined. It's impossible to accomplish this when we're moving so fast through our day. It does take a concerted effort, but it's well worth it.

Writing a letter can also help in organizing and clarifying your thoughts and feelings. At some point you may wish to have a conversation with the person or give them a later and edited version of your letter if you think that can lead to resolution.

There are many variations of the letter writing process, although for this type of letter it's best to follow the specific steps outlined below. It's important to note that there is no wrong way to go about doing this exercise. You should always follow your intuition on how to move forward. For example, you may write one letter and feel that's enough. Or you may wait a few days and write another letter because new feelings have come up that you want to acknowledge.

This type of letter writing is a healing process and healing is not a linear process. Although it's mostly cathartic, it can feel messy for a bit, but if you stick with it and follow these guidelines, you'll most likely find it beneficial.

How to Write Your Letter

  • Set aside at least thirty minutes to write. Write long hand and do not use your phone or computer. Choose a person to write to. When you think of that person and perhaps a certain situation, you'll have strong emotions.
  • Write down all of your thoughts and feelings and don't edit or censor yourself. Unleash your anger, frustration and whatever emotions come up onto the page in a no holds barred manner.
  • Next, transition to talking about yourself and not the other person. Let them know what you're thinking and feeling. Name your specific emotions. Keep in mind that you're writing a letter as an exercise for yourself. This is not about the other person, so if you are stuck blaming and accusing them, just bring the focus back to yourself. (After all, we can only do our own inner work, not someone else's.) This will get you the desired result of alleviation of intense and unwanted emotions.
  • If it's appropriate, take the opportunity to take responsibility for your side of things.
  • Lastly, if appropriate, express your love, appreciation and gratitude for the other person and talk about the importance of your relationship with them.

These last two steps do not have to be included in every letter you write. Make each letter fit your situation. For example, you may feel the need to write only about your reactions and strong emotions in one or more letters. Sometimes, you'll get closure writing one letter and other times it may feel better to write several over a period of time.

  • This last step is a must. It's important to have a sense of closure for yourself after writing and before you move onto the next part of your day. You want to be focused on how you feel after you write. If your emotions are still heightened, be sure to have someone you can call or be with for additional support. It can be comforting to plan on doing something that's soothing and calming after the exercise, such as having a cup of tea, wrapping yourself in a cozy blanket or going outside for a walk.

Therapeutic letter writing can be a healthy and effective way of healing old wounds and releasing stuck emotions. When you're finished, you can rip up or shred the letter or you may want to have a ceremony of sorts, such as lighting a candle, saying a short prayer or burning (in a safe place, of course!) the letter.

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